Since embryonic stem cell research arrived on the scientific scene as a viable option, the Catholic Church has held a very skeptical stance. Pope John Paul II said it was “related to abortion, euthanasia and other attacks on innocent life.” Pope Benedict XVI has upheld this view vigorously.
But while the Catholic Church hasn’t changed its own views, many of its constituents have. A recent poll from the Gallup Organization did not find any difference between Catholics and non-Catholics as far as their views on embryonic stem cell research or abortion. While views on other issues such as gambling differed by up to 13%, abortion and stem cell research had the lowest difference of only 1%, well within the margin of error.
Also included in the Gallup survey, were questions about how frequently Catholic subjects attend church. A strong trend was drawn between church attendance and adherence to the Catholic Church’s stances.
So what does this mean for the Catholic Church? One possibility is that they are slightly out of touch with their base. Initially, the Church’s stance was that the destruction of an embryo is the destruction of innocent human life, which was immoral and not permissible. Now that the idea that stem cells are harvested from discarded embryos is commonly understood, the main argument has been one warning of a slippery slope.
Though it would be hard to find a Catholic or non-Catholic that wouldn’t agree we must watch out for a slippery slope that may lead to immoral practices, most Americans no longer share the view of the Church. As evidenced by the Gallup poll, a majority of both Catholics and non-Catholics believe that the potential for benefit outweighs the risk of harm that could result from this research.
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